Thursday, January 29, 2015

Waking Up Before I Go-Go

I’ve been experimenting with waking up without an alarm clock for two weeks now. Well, almost. Technically, I’ve set the alarm clock to the last possible moment that I could afford to sleep in without dire consequences (e.g., getting to work late, missing morning appointments) as a safety net in case I pull a Rip Van Winkle in the mornings. The results so far have surprised and impressed me so far.

Except for one morning, I managed to wake up anywhere between 60 to 15 minutes before the safety net alarm rang. I woke up feeling energetic, optimistic, and excited about upcoming day’s adventures. These findings were pleasantly unexpected, and I feel committed to making the new habit stick.

For over three decades, I’ve followed a routine of setting my alarm clock to ring at a target time of when I think I should be waking up, which is usually very optimistic. Each morning would inevitably result in epic battle of will between myself and the two-headed monster of alarm and snooze button. At 6:15, the alarm rings, and I surrender to the snooze. At 6:25, the siren call of the alarm reprises, and I choose to snooze again. The tug-of-war continues until 6:45 or 6:55, when I give in to the unforgiving ten minute snooze interval and drag my tired ass out of bed. Either way I’ve wasted up to 40 minutes of quality sleep, or 40 minutes of productive morning time.

The alarm-less experiment made me aware that both quantity and quality are important for my sleeping habits. I noticed that with improved quality of sleep, I feel more energy to feed my weekday work and weekend activities. For the longest time, I thought that I needed 7.5 hours of sleep each night, but I didn’t factor in the quality part of the sleep equation. It didn’t help that I often went to bed with huge fear of not waking up in time—the added stress of waking up in the morning probably lowered my enjoyment of sleep.

Also adding rituals to my alarm-less experiment has made the sleep experiment more successful. I generally try to prepare for the upcoming day the evening before, with clothes laid out and set aside, coffee maker prepared for the morning, and my bags nearly packed. Less things to do in the morning means less frantic chaos. I try to be in bed by a certain time and fall asleep while reading a book or magazine. And in the morning, I take ten deep breaths before getting out of bed, and make my bed immediately. I make an effort to listen to a thought-provoking podcast and watch a TED video as part of the routine.

I have no deep knowledge of the body’s response to the circadian rhythm; I’m no chronobiologist. But I’m encouraged by a growing array of articles and talks on human energy management and productivity which make strong case for valuing quality sleep. Gretchen Rubin’s TEDx talk correlates sleep with increased happiness. Diligent sleep habits are characteristics of many successful people, according to a recent Inc. article, "Sleep Deprivation is a Productivity Killer.”

The idea of waking up without an alarm clock seems to be counterintuitive to my goals to be more active and quest-focused on weekends. How can I take advantage of my weekend mornings if I don’t set alarms? I’m banking on a theory that by becoming in tune with my circadian rhythm, I won’t fall to the decades-long pitfall of indulging in binge sleeping over the weekends—a decades-long pigeon of discontent which motivated me to plan adventures for every weekend this year. There will be situations where I’ll resort to using an alarm (e.g., rising early to catch a morning flight, managing sleep while traveling, and ensuring that I wake up very early for those running or cycling events which begin at butt-crack of dawn), but I expect those moments to be rare.

Perhaps waking up alarm-less in the morning is the keystone habit that I’ve been searching for. Only time will tell.

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Leveling Up Media Consumption

“You are the average of the five people you spend the most time with.” - Jim Rohn

The quote from the late author and motivational speaker is often applied in context of workplace culture and social groups. I can relate to how accurate that the observation is: when I’m part of an amazing and transformative culture—and adding to the goodness—it’s exhilarating feeling an elevated sense of purpose. On the flip side, when I’m thrust in an environment where crab effect, schadenfreude, and toxicity define the cultural norms, it’s sometimes tempting to get sucked into that convention, which often leads to mental exhaustion at end of the day. Being a part of a great culture is like eating a delightfully healthy meal, whereas membership in a subpar environment is akin to snacking on unhealthy junk food.

But can “the average of the five people” concept apply to my information consumption as well? Would spending more time being exposed to media which dovetail into my goal of lifelong learning and less time with low- or non-value added sources result in greater satisfaction and/or enlightenment? I decided to take on an experiment to change my media consumption habits. It’s a work in progress so far, but the results seem promising.

I’ve decided to indulge less of low-value/low-reward (in my opinion) consumption. For years, my default go-to web surfing destination was mostly sports sites. I suspect that the mental energy needed to process mundane news about scores, rumors, speculations, and latest exploits of prima donna athletes were minimal compared to reading substantial essays on productivity blogs and thought leaders’ websites. Mindless web consumption can be useful when I need a very short distraction, but when brief indulgences extend into hours-long rabbit hole of low-value “Internet research,” it’s no different than initially deciding to eat a single stick of French fry and ultimately gorging on several orders of super-sized fries. It also didn’t help that I often indulged in clicking the sponsored links on those sports articles, which inevitably led to TMZ-esque gossip and sensationalist media sites.

I’ve started to add to my weekly goals to absorb more media that align with my learning and enlightenment goals, as well as expand my body of general knowledge. I’ve set a goal to watch a TED talk every day, and listen to at least three thoughtful podcasts a week. Watching mentally stimulating presentations fit more closely with my goals of becoming a better speaker (and an eventual TED talk presenter) than repeatedly viewing a replay of crushing football tackle (lesson learned: watching the same replay twenty times didn’t change the outcome, and it didn’t add value to my leisure time). Listening to productivity podcasts and interviews with extraordinary people align with my desire to lead a 10xer life. I’ve intentionally started to spend more time with magazines that I subscribe to (but don’t always read completely): reading a human interest article in New Yorker magazine would likely offer more value to me than reading ten different news articles on the latest controversy in the sporting or entertainment world.

I have many friends who immerse themselves with intelligent media as part of their habits. Some folks I know spend weekend mornings listening to National Public Radio. Others listen to podcasts, thoughtful news, or audio books while they commute. What I’m doing isn’t revolutionary—there are precedents and inspirations. I have nothing against mainstream media, but I want to increase my awareness about what I intentionally choose to consume. Being exposed to fluffy media is like eating a bucketful of heavily-buttered popcorn, while spending time around media which integrate with my greater interests is savoring a truly healthy and beneficial dish.

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Fear of Having Missed Out

The condition known as Fear of Missing Out (FOMO) is widely talked about in popular culture. We sometime take action because we fear that inaction will result in lost opportunities.

There's one similar condition that I've struggled with: Fear of Having Missed Out. It's a combination of regret, envy, and hindsight. The inevitable question of "What if?" surfaces when I contemplate events where I experience FOHMO.

When I read about amazing adventures, accomplishments, and vision of others, FOHMO sometimes kicks in. I'm nearing my fifties, and sometimes I feel that my lifelong accomplishments are lilliputian compared to amazing thought leaders, artists, and people who inspire. Some of the FOHMO pangs are self-inflicted: the more I become interested in the works of these action heroes, it's easier to compare my output to those who have written several amazing books, given compelling TED talks, composed amazing music, galvanized communities, and made a dent in the universe.

Perhaps I've spent earlier lifetime in a state of having undefined purpose, having minimal drive, or allowing others to shape my vision and goals. Whenever I read interviews with interesting musicians in Keyboard or Electronic Musician magazines, I felt simultaneously interested and envious: learning how they got things done was inspiring, but I also felt, "Why can't it be me?" It didn't help that I failed to do the work and neglected to polish my craft. Thinking that great ideas that percorated in my head would inherently and naturally generate interest--without making a splash in the canvas--is not the road to success. It's hard to make a stand while sitting on my ass.

Witnessing, and being influenced by, the positive ethics of the younger generation has also flared the FOHMO. Encountering and working alongside passionate and driven people who refuse to believe in limitations provided a stark dissonance with what I believed to be how things should be done. Instead of striving to receive permission, these provocative change agents sought to make things happen: whereas I was conditioned not to rock the boat and obey the superiors, the folks who actually got shit done took more risks, flipped the middle finger to the old way of doing things, and questioned the establishment. They formed organizations to build infrastructure to provide African villages with clean water, helped create and spur social media, smashed the outdated notion of command-and-control in the corporate world (thank you Switch & Shift, Fast Company, Seth Godin, Hugh MacLeod, and many others), built a community for thousands of thought leaders and difference makers (much love to World Domination Summit), and spread their ideas to the masses.

So why do I still experience FOHMO at times? Perhaps becoming immersed with lifelong learning tribes, and sometimes crossing paths with these thought leaders (which is possible thanks to the powers of socal media), made it very tempting to compare apples to pomegranates. But it's time that I give myself credit for what I have accomplished already and the transformations that have taken place. I, too, have learned to reject the cynical masses and the doom crew. I've enthusiastically flipped the bird to the command-and-control culture that expects me to act sheeplike and seek permission before I create anything. I've started ignoring and stopped validating those who feel that being special is reserved for a chosen few. I've stopped being scared to fail. I helped curate communities and encourage dialogue at work and home. I'm a fucking unicorn and I can make amazing shit happen.

Instead of feeling envy and insignificant when I read about accomplishments of others in Portland Monthly, New York Times, Monocle, or other publications, I want to feel inspiration and motivation. Whenever I attend talks and presentations given by amazing thought leaders, I want to learn from them, and use their energy to fuel my drive towards one of my life goals: presenting a TEDx talk. I may still feel FOHMO periodically, but if I can redirect those feelings towards working on my craft (may it be writing, creating music, giving talks, being a rock star to rock stars, encouraging others to share stories with powerful presentations, cultivating culture in the workplace, or nurturing tribes), I see a powerful and compelling future--one without regrets--on my road to awesome.

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Walk This Way

Sometimes positive life changes happen so fast that I find it a pleasant challenge to adapt to the new state of affairs. Within the last three months, I accepted a dream job at my workplace and finally worked the courage to move out of my old, antiquated apartment of last 19 years.

On surface, these changes seem like a trifle to worry about. I’m still working for the same company and my move only involved a cross-town migration: many people change companies, cities, and even industries with greater frequency. But adjustment is an adjustment, and sudden changes throw daily routines into a state of flux.

Thankfully, ideas and values from my new team at work and the recent World Domination Summit 2014 conference have helped me establish clarity of how I want to live. The awesome visionaries whom I see in the office expects each team member to “walk the talk”: that is to commit to doing—through our actions—what we say that we are going to do. When we commit to proactively communicating with our customers, we make that happen. We don’t just talk about them. When we emphasize using best practices, we lead by example.

Walking the talk also dovetails nicely with notable takeaways from WDS 2014. Many speakers, through their life experiences, imparted the message of making time for doing what matters the most to us. Spending time with friends who are important to us, devoting time to activities that nourish and sustains us, and making commitments to causes that are important to us were the messages from WDS.

Having intentionally downsized to a smaller (yet efficient) living space, Dee Williams' talk about intentional small living stuck a chord. Michael Hyatt's convincing presentation about making deliberate life chioces—leading a life of design—raised questions about which activities add, or don't add, value to my daily living.

These talks and enlightening conversations with fellow attendee friends started my questioning of my daily acts with "Is what I'm doing right now a priority to me?" When I'm tempted to stay up late on week nights web surfing instead of getting ample sleep, I ask myself what is more important to me—being fully present and at peak physical and mental shape when I work with awesome teammates at work, or seeking immediate gratification of being entertained on the Internet? What is a greater priority between following through on a scheduled evening workout, or hitting a brewpub after a day of straining brain cells at the office? What do I choose? Presenter John Jantsch's imploring us to "make good choices" reinforced my daily questionings.

I've absorbed lessons from WDS 2014 and integrated them with how my team's core mission. I've done a decent job so far of walking the talk in my professional and personal spheres, and new insights that I gained earlier this month offers opportunities for me to question what matters to me. Keeping these questions in my consciousness is my new challenge: they will help me gain clarity during my exhilarating state of flux and life changes.

Monday, March 3, 2014

A Question of Time

I love planning. My Sunday morning ritual of reviewing how I spent my waking hours during the previous week, identifying anchor points for the upcoming weeks, and writing several weekly goals to strive for is a helpful routine. However, I have consistently reached less than half of my weekly goals. My SMART (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, and Timely) goals often turn into DUMB (Disorganized, Unreasonable, Meandering, and Burdensome) goals. Once these stable of goals become even more dumber, they start competing with each other for time in my mind, and I spend inordinate amounts of time herding mental cats, attempting to prioritize them.

Quite often I find myself disappointed that my timelines for goals keep getting pushed back every week. I planned on filing my taxes a month ago. I planned on finishing my apartment de-cluttering by last weekend. I planned on blogging on a weekly basis. My time management efforts could use significant improvements.

But where do I start?

On surface level, I could look to the Holy Trinity of Effective Habits—exercise, nutrition, and rest—as starting points. They are often looked to as common sense solutions when life spirals out of control. We’ve all heard the explanations before: exercise is essential for building discipline and clearing the mind, healthy nutrition affects physical and emotional well-being, and getting appropriate dosage of sleep each night results in improved energy level the following day. But there seems to be deeper root causes for my SMART goals turning DUMB. I want to find out where these pigeons of discontent are residing. What are the reasons for the disconnect between planning and executing?

The first thing I can do is to go to the Gemba—or where the work takes place. In Process Improvement parlance, a Gemba Walk is performed to observe onsite the work being done and gain a holistic understanding of why the work is done the way it is. What if I take a mental Gemba walk whenever I feel like procrastinating instead of pursuing my weekly goals? Why do I prefer inaction to doing the work? Is procrastination caused by physical exhaustion, mental fatigue, paralysis by over-analysis, environmental issues, competition from life maintenance activities, or disrupted flow? Perhaps taking inventory of the snapshot in time can offer clues to why I am hesitant to do the work.

Striving for incremental process improvement in daily habits helps to a certain extent. The success of my “tweak-a-week” plans vary. Some tweaks, such as planning and setting aside a work week’s worth of office attire in advance have proven to be a time-saver when I commit myself to taking time during the weekend to do so. Some tweaks are routinely ignored (e.g. hanging work clothes up after end of the work day), while others have become an ingrained habit over the years (e.g. indulging in nature photography during lunchtime). My mileage varies. I’m figuring out what I can do to make the tweaks that become adopted routines that stick.

Perhaps there are more important questions that are begging to be asked. "Do my daily activities and weekly goals nourish my key life objectives?” “What are these key objectives?” “Why are these objectives important?” By starting with these questions, I may gain clarity.

If I elevate one of my key objectives as the raison d’ĂȘtre for setting weekly goals and tweaks—for example, studying for and earning a Certified Associate in Project Management certification before end of August 2014—my goals and tweaks could be better defined. I would try things that offer greater alignment with my key objective than those goals that do not nourish them, or tweaks that are more like band-aids. If I make studying for an exam a priority over the next six months, I would seek weekly goals, tweaks, and habits which free up time during my waking hours, as well as add value to my objective. I would likely be more inclined to spend weeknight hours reading study materials instead of communing with my PlayStation 3. I may even embrace “scrubbing the temple floors” instead of favoring activities that offer short-term glitz but little in the way of alignment with my key objectives.

Looking for answers and making changes that support the overarching vision is not easy. Adopting the mindset of “the reason for living is reason for leaving low-alignment activities” is a challenge. I could use greater self-accountability and self-responsibility for making my life’s work happen. Setting a framework in which all smaller goals and tweaks can directly support, is a good starting point. It’s time to start observing my mental Gemba and ask myself what my goals are.

Monday, February 10, 2014

Peers, Seers, and Fears

Most, if not all, of my successes in my lifetime have transpired after I was inspired, influenced, and encouraged by people around me. The company I keep is the reason why I am leading a very colorful and engaging professional and personal lives. I get by with not only a little help from my friends, but with lots of help.

Fellow tribe members inspire me to pursue creative and rewarding endeavors, such as writing, cooking, performing music, and exercising. They offer glimpse into what is possible, and encourage me to try various activities. They see the potential in what I am capable of learning and doing, and urge me to explore. They provide reality checks, encouragements, healthy disagreements, and support. They aren't afraid to let me know when I'm kicking ass; they also aren't afraid to tell me when I trigger their bullshit detectors.

Surrounding myself with communities which engage me—and prod me to discover my voice—makes my learning and creative endeavors enjoyable. I strive to spend most of my time engaging with my tribes. It's a boon to have peers with whom I can share ideas with: my waking hours are filled with discussions about creativity, lean processes, process improvement, mindfulness, fitness, leadership, works of thought leaders, motivational quotes and lyrics, community- and culture-building, and design. It's also a blessing when people in the tribe encourage me to try things, observe me make mistakes along the way, and provide guidance about how I can improve my subsequent efforts.

But what happens when these tribes aren't available? What happens when I'm surrounded by naysayers and energy vampires whose presence and actions bring halt to any forward momentum that I had generated?

I usually (but not always) view these individuals through lenses of empathy. More often than not, common ground can be identified after few conversations. Finding similar interests and commonalities can form the basis of relationship with them. I have several friends who have no interest in any of the various tribes that I am passionate about, but usually there are shared interests—like music, food, libations, and sports—which offer a common ground. These things may be small-talk topics in the grand scheme of my ambitions, but relating to others on this level can forge relationships over time.

It's also worth noting that many folks in my tribes have offered a helping hand after I had fallen down (sometimes repeatedly) in the depths of misery, complaint, self-pity, and frustration. I have received many words of encouragement by these folks when I was not at my best at work, at band rehearsals, at events, and at other activities. Instead of focusing on my moments of negativity, they took the long view and chose to offer encouragement. If I let a bad moment derail my flow, they help me get back on track.

Furthermore, several friends whom I have known for nearly three decades have been supportive through my many years of morosity and despair. These friends are real troupers and I am grateful for them. I'm very happy that almost thirty years later, I can share laughter and reminisce about good times with them. They also are great reminders for me to be supportive of my friends who are going through prolonged blue periods—they have the potential to transform their situations, just like how I did. To paraphrase Steve Miller Band, sometimes we got to go through hell before we get to heaven.

Sadly, there is a small subset of people I know who are chronic naysayers. Overwhelming pessimism and perpetually-held victim mentality run amongst these Eeyores. I minimize my contact with them, but it's difficult to avoid them completely—especially if they are found in work and social settings. They will perpetuate "the crab effect" with their actions: they will try to drag me down when I'm making things happen. Eeyores hate it when I find meaning in the work that I do and show enthusiasm. I've experienced situations where others frowned upon my enjoyment of work: apparently, everyone is supposed to find their jobs to be stressful, and enjoying what I do meant that I wasn't working hard enough. If they can't be happy at work, I'm not allowed to be happy either. Eeyores find the idea of rejecting the status quo to be a threat to their perceived order, and to them, people like me pose a threat. Jonathan Fields' Video How Do You Handle Naysayers has a great rebuttal for addressing these types of naysayers: since I don't see them as being "in the arena" and fighting these big challenges themselves, their opinions don't mean much to me.

Fortunately, these crab-like naysayers are a small minority. I'm usually too absorbed and engaged with my tribes to let these toxic folks take center stage in my activities. The Eeyores can go muck themselves in the comforts of their Hundred Acre Wood—far away from where my real actions take place.

Monday, January 27, 2014

The Neverending Stories

Over the past few years, I've encountered numerous articles, blog posts, and editorials which tout the importance of storytelling. I've seen the rising popularity of TED Talks, watched effective short talk formats being embraced at conferences and events, and noticed an uprising of "how-to" books, tutorials, and videos which impart tips for effective storytelling. I admit that I have been smitten by the power of storytelling, and bitten by the art of presentations bug. I am a passionate believer in the power of story.

But just like anything else which has gained currency and popularity, storytelling can be abused and exploited as means for profit. Sometimes I feel that storytelling is one of the latest buzzwords in a corporate context--destined to land in a Bullshit Bingo game square adjacent to "leverage," "think outside the box," and "synergy." Storytelling can also spiral out of control when the message rambles endlessly and pointlessly, or when the messenger adopts the tone of an omnipotent expert. Perhaps storytelling has jumped the shark? Not a chance!

Humans have told stories over many centuries, and will continue to do so even after the media and business sectors move on to the Next Big Thing. Storytelling will always have an important place for strengthening communities and bringing people together. I'm not a fan of those "get rich quick by storytelling" mentality: I prefer honesty, authenticity, and community-building intent behind stories. And I want to learn how I can better share my stories in those manners.

Many of the moving stories that I've heard in recent years resonate with ideas that I feel strong affinity for. At World Domination Summit 2013, Tess Vigeland shared with three thousand strangers how she had immersed herself into a scary place of uncertainty (WDS talk here). Jia Jiang gave the audience hope and levity when he confronted his fear of rejection head-on and embarked on his Rejection Therapy project (WDS talk here). At a recent Lightning Talks event at work, a colleague shared his passion for aiding the less fortunate people in the local community. Another colleague shared her enthusiasm and expertise in winter cycling. These storytellers, whether at national conferences or at a local skunkworks event, exude resonance, hope, insight, inspiration, and call to action (using the aforementioned examples, I have stopped fearing potential changes to my job situation, ceased treating rejections as catastrophes of apocalyptic proportions, raised my awareness for assisting those in need, and started cycling into work during cold-ass weather).

I want to share my stories for same reasons these inspiring storytellers do: to connect with and relate to the audience, to bring people together, to offer hope to others, and to make people laugh. I want to raise awareness that storytellers are not perfect and all-knowing: my life experiences involve acknowledging imperfections, fears, and vulnerabilities, and turning adversities into positive progressions. I want to learn what aspects of storytelling that I can improve upon: connecting with the audience, creating the story arc, and striving for brevity are all areas that I can get better at.

Choosing which stories to share is important. Most of my audience are lifelong learners who embrace possibilities and are actively paving their own roads to awesome. They will resonate more favorably if I share my List of 100 Dreams with them instead of my 99 Problems. I could share stories about my failure to get promoted at my job for the past four years, but I want to instead share stories about how learning new skills and showing enthusiasm for others' projects have led me to establish strong relationships with influential friends and peers. I could bemoan my regret about never hitting a home run during my youth baseball days, but I want to focus on how learning to play seven different positions over that time led me to appreciate flexibility. I could harp on my experiences as a failed twenty-first chair clarinetist in junior high, but instead regale about how I took advantage of an opportunity to switch instruments to make a All-State band twice during high school. I could lament about my aborted one-person synthpop band which disbanded before releasing an album, or count my blessings that my endeavors led me to other musicians whom I have befriended (and subsequently joined their groups).

Choosing which stories to share leads to different outcomes. When I focus on telling stories from a place of misery, misfortune, and scarcity, I attract drama and chase away potentially interesting people. Sharing stories from a place of possibility, authenticity, and abundance leads to encountering many amazing people who eventually invigorate my life. Jonathan Fields' Good Life Project offers this insight: "Life is a story, if you wouldn't read the one you're telling, write a different ending."

Monday, January 20, 2014

Be Attentive, B-E Attentive, B-E A-T-T-E-N-T-I-V-E!

I enjoy making plans and charting a direction for how I spend my time. Ideally I want to focus my attention on those activities that will help me get within the vicinity of my intended goals. Maintaining sustained and focused efforts over a period of time has led to many awesome experiences and learning opportunities, and I want to ingrain those habits that reinforce my learning, fitness, career, and social goals.

I also embrace serendipity. Amazing discoveries, awesome friendships, and new opportunities have entered my life even though I was not seeking them out initially. These awesome chance events have shaped the direction of how I spend my time.

Is this a paradox? Can planning and serendipity co-exist in a rewarding synergy? Definitely! I love planning but also allow unexpected things to happen in my daily activities. I want to structure my 168 hours every week but also create spaces for what Angela Maiers calls “tactical serendipity.” I want to allow for what my friend and fellow writer Jackie Dotson refers to as, “Dude, Let’s Try This!” opportunities.

Adopting either of the extremes—designing my waking hours with rigid structure or leaving everything that happens to chance—doesn’t reflect how I want to live. I want to make incremental progress towards big-picture goals (e.g. running 10k races this year, learning and mastering new songs with my bands, earning a Certified Associate in Project Management certification, relocating to a lovely smaller apartment) while enjoying these processes. But I don’t want these goals to consume all of my waking hours. Conversely, I love encountering new opportunities, meeting people, and going where the wind carries me, but I don’t want to wander aimlessly through life. I am somewhere between the two extremes. I often sway back and forth with the wind.

I’ve discovered that making time for serendipity and being attentive are excellent adoptable habits. Pursuing a direction while being open to random events allows for exploring adjacent possible spaces, evaluating the relevancy of the current direction, and making necessary changes to reorient my goals. Being exposed to engaging ideas and philosophies (e.g. powerful storytelling, short talk formats, culture-building, and lean methodologies) were influential in my decision to stop trying to keep up with technical certifications for IT support: my career goals have shifted accordingly.

Few days ago, I noticed a runner while I was performing errands couple of neighborhoods away from home. It never occurred to me until that observation that I could possibly incorporate running in that neighborhood as part of my exercise routine. About 95 percent of my running sessions follow the same route, and I have become ingrained in the habit of following the tried-and-true loop during workouts. I learned that a running course to the new neighborhood and back would be roughly the same distance that I normally run. Today I ran out to the new neighborhood and back—and found the experience exhilarating. Moments like being greeted by the bright and brilliant sun when I reached the top of the hill, seeing maneki neko statues inside a gorgeous golden-yellow house, and appreciating the ambience and the period architecture of the charming residential neighborhood made the new course a compelling win. I also learned that I can incorporate parts of my original, familiar running route when I start experimenting with running longer distances. Serendipity!

Being attentive about my surroundings has also inspired possibilities. I recently discovered a new bakery restaurant and a nifty-looking bar in my neighborhood, which I will investigate. These new places may be comfortable for a blogging session, a skunkworks meeting, a team-building event, or social outing. Or maybe not. Either way, they are experiences to be discovered. Unearthing these places happened because one day I decided to walk ten blocks to a bus stop that was farther away instead of waiting idly at a bus stop for fifteen minutes while waiting for the bus.

It is a blessing to encounter awesome people and discover new ideas while partaking in diverse activities. I met many amazing people while playing recreational sports—these people have inspired me with their passions and goals. I crossed paths with many talented musicians while playing shows—these people have become great friends and even future bandmates. People whom I have met through my work have encouraged me to unleash my creative tendencies, question the status quo, and create community- and culture-building movements. Being a part of many tribes have blessed me with opportunities to learn about others’ experiences, interact with other writers, share my experiences and stories, and participate in a community of supportive beings who want to be remarkable.

Establishing a direction and embracing randomness can work harmoniously. As long as I keep my senses engaged and be attentive to what is happening around me, I can continue to spend my time in engaging and vibrant ways.

Monday, January 13, 2014

Looking, Learning, Moving On

In keeping with my anti-tradition, I didn't make a New Year's Resolution for the year. The concept of waiting until beginning of an arbitrary date before implementing changes seems absurd to me: I don't need permission from the calendar for me to start doing epic shit. And lots of epic stuff happened during the year 2013.

Most of my learning objectives and passions were not on my radar at beginning of 2013. I didn't reflect back at my life trajectory and bemoan about those resolutions and desires which failed to materialize. Had I made resolutions and clung onto the notion of meeting those goals as a sole basis for defining success, then I had failed miserably in 2013.

I didn't get the dream job that I had interviewed for back in January of last year. I didn't extricate myself away from a work environment that was full of waste, stress, and toxicity. I didn't make any headway info making a relocation to the East Coast a reality. I didn't lose twenty pounds. I still can't fit into those awesome Uniqlo shirts that I bought back in 2011 without my midsection looking rotund.

But serendipity and building my career capital led to many amazing things that happened during the past year. Most of them were not even only radar back on January 1, 2013. I learned the basic concepts of lean concepts and processes, which I have integrated in my work and personal life: critically examining my relationships with other people, pursuits, belongings, or activities to see if they are adding value to my life or not has been a great barometer for reducing the clutter in my life. Adopting lean is not just for manufacturing work: I am convinced that it is a viable way of living.

And through exposure to many happenings this year—the various professional conferences, World Domination Summit, TEDx Portland, Wordstock 2013, and the skunkworks passion project that I am involved with—I learned the transformative impact of storytelling. The art of telling stories is what brings people together to rally behind great notions, to place human touch to abstract ideas, and to create community. There are many stories to be told, and I am going to tell the stories and help create a space where others can tell their stories. I feel so fortunate that I am able to do the latter with a lunchtime Lightning Talks project at work, with an amazing co-conspirator.

I also learned how to apply my passion for creating an inclusive culture. I have promoted inclusion in my social circles, in the workplace, in my professional tribes, and elsewhere where I felt that a sense of belonging was needed. I am forever grateful that a friend complimented me about my "inclusive" nature when I first met her in person back in the mid-2000s: I have accepted and embraced that promoting inclusion is in my personal brand—and I am running with it.

There were many unexpected teachers, kind souls, and otherwise amazing people who appeared out of nowhere in the past year. They encouraged me to learn, grow, share, and open my heart. They were not on my New Year's Resolution 2013 Stakeholder Registry, but these lovely beings helped me live a kick-ass year. They dared me to feel, take chances, and make deals. They urged me to stop being an island who was shying from trying. They convinced me that there is no future without tears and uncertainty—but it is worth taking chances every day. They told me that it's okay for me to be a creative person, and encouraged me to reconnect with my dormant creative pursuits.

So did I fail in my pursuit to attain the mythical 2013 New Year's Resolutions? Perhaps. Did I learn more from new opportunities and serendipities than from an outlined list of preordained objectives? Hell yes! Do I regret not making any New Year's Resolutions last year? Hell no! Instead of writing inflexible and firm resolutions in stone at beginning of every calendar year, I see each day as a blank canvas full of possibilities. I want to open myself to entertaining new directions and new connections every day.

Many of the best plans that I entertained at beginning of last year have been mislaid. But it didn't matter since most of the lessons learned involved new interests that were not in the original plans. Whether they were in study or in play, the serendipities and chance experiences led to the the forming of new connections and new passions.

Saturday, January 4, 2014

And If We Threw It All Away

Recent life events have influenced me to postpone indefinitely my plans for relocating to the East Coast. I have an abundance of professional and growth opportunities that I want to immerse myself with over the next few years, including completing certification programs at a local university, studying for and earning a Certified Associate in Project Management (CAPM) certification, and taking my recent adventures in presentations and storytelling to the next level. There is unfinished business that I want to attend to. I have also realized that I have connections and friendships in the area that I want to cherish. My roots will continue to be in Portland indefinitely.

But there is one thing I want to do within the next six months, and that is to find a new apartment to live in. I have lived in the same place since I moved here on August 31, 1995, and the space does not suit or reflect my personality anymore. I have become extremely disenchanted with my living situation, especially since I no longer feel the need to “tough it out before moving away.” I want to move into a smaller space with reduced square footage and charm. I started the process of decluttering my apartment this week in preparation for the eventual relocation. Spending hours evaluating the things that will be part of my future and what will be left behind involved rethinking my material philosophy and the meaning of home as an engaging space, and expending sheer amount of mental energy on decision-making processes.

In the past year, I spent eight weeks living outside my home, at housesitting stints and out-of-town vacations and conferences. Those weeks of relying mainly on the contents of my suitcase and backpacks were liberating. I felt unencumbered with less stuff around me. I also became fascinated by the location-independent lifestyles of several people whom I had met at World Domination Summit 2013. Absolute minimalism is unlikely in my future, but it is always an inspiration to learn from those who value mobility.

Reading Gretchen Rubin’s Happier At Home inspired me to think about my relationship with possessions. During the decluttering process, I asked myself, “How—and how often—will I interact with this object?” I gave myself two rough guidelines for keep-or-toss criteria: six months for unopened pantry foodstuff, and three years for other material possessions. Since keeping stuff around that is rarely used is wasteful in context of lean thinking (clutter contributes to several components of muda—or waste—including Transport, Inventory, Motion, and Overproduction), I asked myself whether or not keeping something around would add value to my furnishings and life. It wasn’t long before I got rid of excess hair gels, backups to backup pants, tubs of unused jar candles, and other stuff that I had kept around the apartment for “just in case” scenarios. I got rid of a bag full of black socks, which I had set aside since last summer: my plans for making Gothic sock monkeys did not materialize, so out went the socks. My crafts night project of making bookmarks out of magazine pictures never happened, so out went the old magazines. I finally got rid of silverware that I had ganked from the college cafeteria in the early 1990s: I guess I never bothered to host a dinner party for twenty people at my place.

I also struggled with environmental concerns while throwing things away. I tossed almost dozen trash bags of stuff into the dumpster this week. I thought about how detrimental it was to the environment throwing away half-used things that still had some potential consumability, but my discontent caused by the clutter trumped my environmental concerns. What I want to do, however, is to critically think about usefulness of things at the stage when I obtain them—not five years later while decluttering the apartment. Will I find meaningful uses for a pen set within next three years in order for me to justify falling for the current 75 percent off sale price? Do I really need dozen containers of rice milk just because the carton pricing is at 25 percent discount? Perhaps reframing my thoughts about environmental impact of stuff will save lots of grief (and sore arms) when I am hauling bags of possessions to the dumpster.

Sorting through numerous possessions also resulted in decision fatigue. For every item that I was deciding its fate about, I asked myself, “Will I interact with this? Can this be replaced if I need it again in the future? Will someone else find this to be useful? Is it better for me to toss this away? Or take it to Goodwill? Or try to make money off it on eBay?” Repeating that numerous times during a purge session drained my mental energy, and left me with less energy to engage in other activities this week.

Seeing objects which reminded me of my former aspirations, ambitions, and priorities were weird. I purged piles of books and manuals on computer technology (the stuff that I thought I would eventually need to learn but never made time to do so), computer peripherals (stuff like backup docking station for an obsolete Palm Pilot) and excess cables, boxes of inkjet-compatible CD labels (did I really think I was going to become a CD demo-making empire?), and college textbooks. Perhaps they may be of interest to other people, but they are no longer in my life. I want to reinforce my shifting life priorities by evaluating my possessions on a frequent basis, instead of every few years.

I want my interactions with stuff to be meaningful. One of Gretchen Rubin’s commandments from The Happiness Project is to “spend out”that is, using and interacting with things instead of saving them for a rainy day, rejecting the hoarding mentality, and letting things go. Unused things can be almost as wasteful as throwing away good, usable stuff. I want to care about the stuff that I am interacting with: fixing loose buttons on favorite articles of clothing should not feel like a chore, but an opportunity to improve my happiness with them. And when they no longer add value, it’s time to get rid of them. I want to have a good idea of what my apartment inventory consists of. Unexpected surprises, such as finding a long-forgotten book, are nice from time to time, but I want those moments to become a rare exception.

For over a year, I have maintained a clutter-free and minimalist cubicle at work. I often get asked by peers if I plan on leaving my job, since I had purged crap out of my space. Now is the time for me to get rid of stuff at home: I want my home to be a place with things that I can be excited about interacting with.